Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. I cannot put it down. Let me explain something to you – I am a mother of three small children. Time for sitting and reading – focused fully on words on a page – it is not possible for very many minutes in a row on very many days of the week. This is my reality, and I accept it.
Except when I pick up a book that swallows me whole the way that this one has done. A book that has me breathless and giddy, dreamy and determined, swoony over the way these stories flirt with me, all shameless and knowing. I read it while I walked around the house doing the things that needed to be done. I read it instead of sewing the curtains or cleaning the increasingly disgusting kitchen floor. I read. I reflected. I amen-ed. I repeated.
This lenten season, the deepest desire of my heart has been to stop and consider Jesus. Church planting is – woah. And we find ourselves swept up in a whirlwind of joy and pain and amazement and aggravation. It’s an adventure of extremes, no doubt, and sometimes those extremes seem to edge Jesus just far enough over that I can only really see Him in my peripheral vision. It’s easy for this thing to become all about what I can or cannot do. And that’s not the point at all.
So, when I sense this happening – because truly I’ve been dancing this dance all my life – I know that it’s time to pull back, to make space for reflection. I know that it’s time to read books, and pray quietly, and pause to watch the snowflakes fall, listen to them tapping my jacket, soak in every inch of silence they carry with them, and ignore the unfinished curtains, the unfinished everything.
This book – it’s part of God’s gentle and sweet pursuit of my bring-it-on heart. Tonight, after steady reading all day long, I got all inspired and fancy feeling for dinner. Salmon was on the menu but it was supposed to be grilled and today wasn’t EXACTLY the day for grilling – and I’m new to the world of salmon so I dared not try any other method. So, I decided to be creative with ingredients I’m far more comfortable with. I made my own Italian diced tomatoes. I “threw a salad together” like cooking without recipes doesn’t freak me right out – even salads without recipes. (How do you know you’re doing it RIGHT?!) I made a tomato cream sauce and decided I’d get crazy and throw in a couple of baked shredded chicken breasts. I pretended that the frozen garlic bread was fresh and crispy, straight from the bakery. And then for dessert – I whipped out a box of angel food cake mix and – wait for it – made a berry reduction, no bigs. I set the table. I made sweet tea. I put everything in pretty bowls, just like my Mama did almost every night of my childhood.
Let me say that we do sit down at our table every night to eat dinner as a family. But sometimes (like half and half) it’s haphazardly with reheated leftovers or whatever will be less clean up after it’s all over. I try to use place mats and do the whole shebang, but often all I can see is more dishes and more laundry piling up as a result. But tonight – oh we were going to eat like civilized people and have a lovely dinner conversation while the snow fell soft outside our windows.
With a five year old. A two year old. And a screaming six month old.
What. the. heck?
Y’all, dinner for us right now looks like this:
We bounce back and forth from the kitchen like ping pong balls because all the people need all the things and no one ever remembers the napkins, the ketchup, the salt, the preferred fork. Finally we all get settled, Jude in my lap, the girls together on the bench, and Josh across from me. Someone prays – but usually not until there’s been a significant discussion about whose turn it is to do so. We begin eating. Someone doesn’t like at least one thing – often all the things. A parent says, “That’s fine but this is all there is for dinner. You’re going to be hungry.” Marilee makes a bizarre kissy face at Adelle. Adelle responds with some equally silly face and a vigorous head shake, raking her hair through her meal. I promptly say something about using our manners and sitting still or I’m throwing plates away. I never, ever actually throw their food away because I cannot bear the thought of listening to them whine about their hunger for the rest of the night. Excellent parenting, obviously. They sit still for, oh, ten seconds and we start the whole fiasco over again, usually involving Marilee wandering from the table looking for a more entertaining activity than sitting still while she chews. All the while Jude is fussing and wallowing all over my lap because he’s ready for his bath, bottle, bed routine, and I am trying to eat my own meal while also making sure Marilee doesn’t mutilate hers. Throw in a spill of some sort and Josh’s “I’m over it” face for good measure, and you’ve pretty much got our meal time every. blooming. night.
Tonight was exactly the same except I was proud of my cooking on the fly self right up until we sat down at the table.
So, although her words are lovely and moving – I cannot for the life of me figure out what she is speaking of – babies on hips and cooking with friends. Dinner as a restful time – a gathering of people to visit and look each other in the eye and listen with attentive hearts. I know nothing of these things. Nothing.
Does your dinner time look like mine or Shauna’s? And if you say Shauna’s and you have tiny children, I’m going to need your secret or else we cannot be friends.
But seriously, is there a way to find joy in your family dinner time when you have little bitties? I’m really asking.
Disclaimer: I know that she is writing about moments – a collection of experiences – not her everyday, cold spaghetti for dinner life. I get that, but my romantic self imagines lovely scenes of women in skinny jeans, some cardigans, maybe a few graphic tees, and some cute flats, with well behaved children on their hips and at their feet while they prepare lovely feasts that everyone enjoys. At least I know I’m entirely misguided.